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Written by Takenya Battle
Misconception- a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding. Let’s take about five minutes to rule out four misconceptions about group music lessons. Put your mind at ease and give this a quick read, then share your thoughts on the matter. Any other misconceptions you’d like to discuss? Comment below!
Children will learn faster in private music lessons because private lessons are superior to group music lessons.
If we go back to the days of queens and kings, history shows us that piano lessons were taught privately. We’re talking about the sons and daughters of royalty here. The mere mortal common folks didn’t own instruments. Instrument ownership was reserved for the wealthy and well-to-do. (Not a whole lot has changed in that aspect, but I digress.)
Take a look at today. There are many other artistic and athletic activities that are traditionally taught in a group format. Exhibit A: Simone Biles. This Four Time Olympic Gold Medalist spent the majority of her time working on teams. One of those gold medals was won, in part, as a team effort.
Can you think of something else that has been passed down for centuries in group form? Dance. Dance was originally learned in tribal and cultural settings in peer and mixed peer groups.
Music instruction is one of those rare education genres that believes private lessons are better than group lessons. The suggestion of such sprang purely from a financial and cultural necessity to separate the social classes and not because effective education called for it.
It has been my experience that well-taught group lessons are a more effective means of teaching. Students progress faster (friendly competition), have more fun (increased personal joy), and develop more independence (positive peer pressure to succeed) in group lessons.
Better students will not be able to progress at their own pace because they will be held back by the other students.
Again, leaning on my own experience, when I first began teaching Elementary Music in a Dallas public school in 2000, I had absolutely no idea I’d be serving children in classes with between 7-50+ kids. I had to find a way to measure and assess everyone’s progress and check on their learning, both as individuals and as a group, in 45 minutes or less.
Whether serving one child or 1,000 children, what remains paramount is this: Comfort in learning is more important than the pace of what’s being taught. Yes, the speed of instruction is an important factor in learning, but if a student isn’t comfortable not only with me as their instructor, but more importantly with themselves, then this two-way street just reached a dead end. Building self-esteem through self-expression shores up the foundation of solid learning and peer support.
Musicianship and technique over everything. We can sing and play all day long and have tons of songs to perform. In order to perform repertoire correctly, you gotta have the skills to pay the bills. The pace of learning skills is fairly universal. However, the use of these skills is individual.
For example, if I teach a piece that uses all 5 fingers of the hand, there will be some students who will fly like rockets, while others will play more slowly and methodically. How fast a student progresses is primarily determined by how much they practice at home (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and their innate talent. This is completely independent of the format of their lessons.
Private lesson time is more valuable than group time.
A lot of time can be wasted in private lessons if a student arrives for their lesson and has not practiced (another wink, wink, nudge, nudge). That time will now likely be spent as a “practice lesson” where the student essentially spends lesson time doing the practicing they should have been doing before they got to their lesson.
What’s missing from the private lesson is the ability to observe the learning process. When I make a correction to fingering (knowing which finger to use when) for example, during a private lesson, the student is forced to concentrate on the correction and then demonstrate the correction at the lesson. The student’s attention is more on the doing than it is on the concrete learning. Sure, the student may have fixed their fingering, but did they retain that information in a meaningful way so that the error is less likely to occur?
During group music lessons, students have the opportunity to observe the teaching process, which then helps them to become their own mini music boss of themselves and their peers. If they are watching the music while listening to another student play, they begin to internalize the process in the same fashion as a teacher. They become independent learners by recreating the teaching process on their own. Self-correction and peer correction runs abundant and the music experience is the better for it.
Effective technique cannot be taught in a group lesson because each student needs individual attention.
Balderdash. Imagine teaching a common scale, say C major, to a private student. The next week the student comes in, the fingering is barely an illusion of what you taught on last week. I mean, the fingering is so far gone that we are potentially looking at a hologram of the memory of what the C major scale should be. You then address what needs to be corrected and encourage the student to practice a bit more on the C major scale.
Now imagine that you’re teaching this same C major scale to a group of students. When they come back for their next group lesson, one student plays with flat fingers, another plays with their pinkie up in the air, and yet another plays with their elbows posed almost as chicken wings.
This is where the super power of the group music lesson kicks in. The class listens as each student is corrected. Not only are the students learning how to fix their own mistakes, they are learning other principles of technique they may not have otherwise been able to consider.
Which students need private lessons?
If you’ve read thus far, and thought that I don’t believe anyone should have private lessons, know that that’s not my belief at all. The point of this writing is to dispel some of the myths associated with group music lessons. Here are several reasons why you (or your child) should have private music lessons.
- Exceptional abilities in coordination skills
- Consistently practice one to two hours daily
- Desire matches the need to play piano at the exclusion of other activities
- Personal preference to private lessons over group lessons
If a student exhibits one or all of these qualities, private lessons might be necessary.
About the Author
Takenya Battle is the Author of the #1 Best-Seller book, “Is My Child Ready for Music Lessons?: A Guide for Parents”. This classically trained vocalist and pianist has helped over 10,000 children and adults to let their talents reign supreme. Empower Your Excellence today!
Takenya Battle is the Director of Kenya’s Keys Voice & Piano Studio, a division of Kenya’s Keys, LLC. Kenya’s Keys, LLC believes in letting your talents reign supreme. We aim to empower your excellence as you aspire for higher. We commit to elevating your creativity through mastery of musicianship and technique. Find joy in your new found confidence and strength in your resilience as a family member at Kenya’s Keys, LLC.
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